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Facts for All Ages

Don't Forget...to Remember!


Don't Forget…to Remember!

I must remember to…

  • Call my grandson tomorrow to wish him a happy birthday
  • Drop off the dry cleaning before work
  • Pay the electric bill by Friday
  • Lock the front door at night
  • Pick up my daughter at the airport on Tuesday at noon

Each of us can relate to these everyday demands where we need to rely on our ability to remember something we intend to do in the future. This is called prospective memory. Quite simply it is "not forgetting to remember."

While research varies as to whether prospective memory ability is impacted by aging, it is clear that every one of us, at any age, forgets sometimes. Forgetting to bring dessert to a dinner party can be embarrassing, but typically harmless (unless you can't live without chocolate)! Some prospective memory failures, however, can be dangerous like neglecting to turn the stove off, leaving for work and forgetting the dog is outside all day, or not remembering to take a much needed medication.

Prospective memory differs from retrospective memory, which is memory for past events or learned information. To put it simply, forgetting the name of a childhood friend is a retrospective memory fail, while not remembering to pick up your grandson from t-ball practice is a prospective memory fail.

Prospective memory tasks are typically time-based or event-based. Time-based tasks are those that are done at a particular time like meeting a friend at 8:00 or checking on the cake in the oven after 30 minutes. Event-based tasks are things we remember to do when an event occurs. An example of this would be remembering that you need to get milk and bread when you see a grocery store.

Because there are so many times in our daily lives where we need to remember an intended action, it shouldn't seem surprising that we sometimes like, jugglers, "drop a ball or two" and forget to do things. So, how can we make it better? How do we work at remembering future tasks?

Here are some suggestions to try:

  • Write it down. If you've ever said, "If I don't write this down, I'll never remember," you are not alone. It sounds very simple, but giving yourself written reminders can really help you remember. Use a calendar or keep a note pad to jot yourself reminder notes. But do note that written reminders are only as good as the person who looks at those reminders!
  • Don't put it off. If you say things like, "I'll make that phone call after this movie ends," chances are you may forget. If you think of something you need to do and have the time right then, don't put it off.
  • Create tangible clues. Make a purposeful change in your surroundings or leave a visual clue as a prompt to remember later. For example, put the library book you need to return at the front door, or place a sticky note on the bathroom mirror. Someone told me he puts his car keys in the refrigerator at night in order to remember to take his lunch to work the next day.
  • Control your stress. When you are mentally stressed by all of the things you need to remember to do or if you are worried or anxious, you can forget something. You can even become distracted by your own thoughts! Taking time to work on relaxation in a way that benefits you is important. Also important is to again, write down what you need to remember.
  • Make a letter string. If you are, for instance, getting ready for a trip and you have a few items you want to remember to put into your suitcase but are not able to at the time, take the first letter of the name of each item and string them together. As an example, if you want to make sure you pack your camera, tooth brush, belt, and scarf, you would string the letters c-t-b-s. If you keep saying c-t-b-s over and over every once in a while in your mind, you will thus remember those items.

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